GFW News Roundup: Forest stories from around the world that demonstrate the power of spatial analysis and open data in improving management of forest landscapes

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Top Reads of the Week

Violence, threat of development lingers over Virunga National Park. In June, conservationists celebrated the withdrawal of SOCO International, a multinational oil company, from Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the New York Times, however, that celebration may have been premature. SOCO is still poised to drill in the park, and observers are concerned that the DRC may redraw park boundaries to accommodate the development. Human rights groups have documented the shootings, torture and killing of opponents to oil development in the park, including the attempted murder of the park’s director in April. Virunga, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is renowned for its biodiversity and mountain gorilla habitat and was the subject of a recently-released documentary. (via The New York Times)

Deforestation in Brazil continues to surge. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 226% compared to last year in the three-month period ending on October 31, according to Imazon, a Brazilian NGO. Forest degradation increased at an even greater rate compared to last year, shooting up 691% for the same three month period. The biggest increases in clearance were seen in the state of Rodônia, as opposed to Pará or Matto Grosso, the states that usually have the highest clearance levels. Brazil’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 7.8 percent in 2013, partially due to an increase in deforestation.  (via Mongabay)

Land-use change and deforestation

One more reason to save the elephants. A new study has found that the removal of large, tree-dispersing mammals (in this case, elephants) increases the probability of tree extinction ten-fold over one hundred years. Elephants were found to play a key role in moving seeds around forests, and were important contributors to long-term forest health and biodiversity. This study – the first to quantify these effects – underscores the need to reduce overhunting and poaching to preserve overall ecosystem protection. (via the University of Florida)

Pipeline may spell disaster for Canada’s forests. The Keystone XL pipeline,  long-debated for its potential environmental and climate impacts in the US, could have disastrous effects on Canada’s boreal forests, argues Andrew Nikiforuk, a Canadian journalist, in an opinion piece in the New York Times. Two million acres of forests have already been cleared for tar sand mining (according to a Global Forest Watch blog post), and further expansion will continue to reduce elk habitat and pollute ecosystems, says Nikiforuk. (via The New York Times)

Industry and forests

60% of world’s palm oil covered under zero-deforestation pledges. IOI Loders Crooklan announced last week  that they would adopt a zero-deforestation policy for their palm oil production, pushing the share of global supply covered by such a commitment to over 60%. This announcement follows Bunge’s similar zero deforestation pledge last month, and came with the backdrop of this week’s annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in Kuala Lumpur. (via Mongabay)

Momentum, inconsistencies in wave of corporate action on deforestation. Corporate commitments to deforestation-free palm oil have piled up this year, but what is the broader outlook for preventing forest loss in supply chains across commodities? A new CDP report argues that companies need to take swift, transparent and meaningful action on deforestation to prevent significant business risk. While some companies have timelines for implementation and cross-commodity policies, many others are lagging behind. (via CDP)

REDD+, forests and climate change

Protecting forests isn’t enough for climate. Protecting forests while pushing cropland expansion into shrublands or savannahs might have unintended consequences for carbon emissions, according to a new study. In modeled scenarios, the full implementation of forest protection schemes (such as REDD+) would prevent 77 billion tons of C02 from being released, but unmanaged cropland expansion into other areas would release 96 billion tons of C02. The authors call for a comprehensive conservation approach that protects both forests and high conservation value non-forest areas. (via Phys.org)

Remote sensing for the environment

Cargill takes to the sky for forest monitoring. Cargill, a global agribusiness company, will be testing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and a remote solar-powered sensor network to map and monitor its forest concessions, it announced in a progress report on its zero-deforestation policy. These drones will help map land use, high conservation areas and high carbon stock areas. (via Mongabay)

Conservation opportunities abound in remote sensing. A group of leading conservationists and remote sensing experts have come up with the ten best examples of how monitoring can be used for effective conservation, such as observing land use change, species distribution and intrusions into protected areas. Remote sensing can provide much-needed global datasets to address holistic conservation of Earth’s ecosystems.  (via EurekAlert!)